5.10.2007

Reading Life 7

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is a tale of innocence gone largely undisturbed. Bruno, our 9-year-old hero, the son of the newly-appointed commandant at OutWith is, much like any other 9-year-old boy, more concerned with how the world is supposed to revolve around him than with the horrible reality that he is thrust into by the Fury. He sees not Shmuel, a Jew in a death camp, but initially as a "dot in the distance, which in the meantime had become a speck, and then began to show every sign of turning into a blob. And shortly after that the blob became a figure. And then, as Bruno got even closer, he saw that the thing was neither a dot nor a speck nor a blob nor a figure, but a person," a boy in striped pajamas and matching cap. And for the life of him, Bruno cannot understand the severity of the suffering going on in this place on that side of the fence. Instead, he imagines it to be like his own Berlin, with streets and avenues that lead to squares surrounded by houses with front porches on which old people sit and tell stories and boys and girls play hopscotch and soccer and the like. For a year, he walks quite a ways away from his own house on the pretense of exploring but really to meet his new best friend for life, Shmuel, his mirror image, only pale and overly-skinny. More so like twins when Bruno gets his head shaved clean to deal with a lice problem. And what does this naive boy wonder? Whether a lice epidemic explains why all the people who live in huts in OutWith are shaved bald, too.
After so long of wishing to be back in Berlin amongst his other best friends for life, Bruno begins to forget what they look like, and even their names, and so he is confused about the meaning of "home" when his father announces that it is time for his wife, his daughter, and his son to return to their home in Berlin. Later he shares the bad news with Shmuel, who has bad news of his own: his father left for work one day and he hasn't returned. The man is lost, and would Bruno help find him? The day before they are scheduled to leave OutWith, Bruno agrees to dress the part of a Jew to explore that side of the fence, and in the meantime, look for clues that might lead to finding Shmuel's missing father.
What Bruno finds on that side of the fence is nothing like he had imagined. But one thing his does find there is a best friend for life.
Boyne handled the topic of the Jewish death camps very responsibly and respectfully, even though some readers might disagree because it is a very naive look at the horrors the Jews and others suffered through at the hands of the Nazis and their "Fury." But we must remember, Boyne is telling the story through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy, not of a grown and mature person who is world-savvy. A great book!

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